Tuesday, July 14, 2020

A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan

World-shaking events can completely reframe your perspective. When I drove from Canberra to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island in March this year, everyone was being urged to visit regional centres to help them recover from the devastating bushfires. Only weeks later, as I was heading home – via Victoria, a State entering lockdown as I passed through – everybody was being encouraged to stay home to help stop the spread of disease. Back in Canberra I had been involved in a long-running effort to have the city listed as a UNESCO City of Design. The new reality that threatened to overshadow that effort was the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically that pandemic had originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which as I discovered, was itself a City of Design in the global UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

I came home to the bubble of Canberra, where it was possible to hole up in the mountains and avoid the worst of the pandemic. It seemed only a few months before, in better times, that we had been arguing once again that Canberra should consider seeking to become a UNESCO City of Design, part of the international Creative Cities Network. All of this had been superseded by the challenge of responding to the pandemic – and to the devastation the lockdown used to deal with it had brought to virtually the whole creative sector.

The universal vocabulary of design
The good news is that the idea of Canberra as a City of Design is still being discussed. In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society.

Inside the bubble at DESIGN Canberra 2019 - Berlin-based Plastique Fantastique presents
pop up events in specially designed portable structures.

Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government.

‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society.’

In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for the seventh year in a row of the month long festival in November.

In the midst of all this, how perspectives can shift and alter. Now the COVD-19 pandemic has engulfed the world, Wuhan has been forever remembered as the unfortunate Chinese city where it all began. It will probably never escape that tag. Recently I was looking through some of the material associated with the proposed Canberra bid to become a City of Design and I found an archaeological relic from a time before COVID-19. It was a brief paper that described how Wuhan had become a UNESCO City of Design. Now sadly the city has expanded its claim to fame, as both a city of design and of pandemics.

Wuhan – creative city of design
To borrow from the outline of Wuhan on the UNESCO Creative Cities website, the city ‘is known for its expertise in bridge and high-speed rail engineering, resilient urban planning and high-tech industries. 50% of the world’s long-span bridges and 60% of China’s high-speed railways were designed by Wuhan designers. Creative industries represent an important mainstay of the local economy with an added-value of US$13,07 billion (2016), accounting for 7.47% of the city’s GDP.’

‘Some of the researchers working on creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology had been involved with Chinese creative sector initatives. They used to say, only half jokingly that ‘whatever the question, China is the answer’. How ironic that a dynamic city which has vision and drive and realises the potential of the creative sector should become known as a result of the pandemic with which is will be forever associated.’

The website continues ‘Creative design is at the core of Wuhan’s cultural agenda, which includes the large-scale Wuhan Design Biennale, focusing on cross-cutting approaches between art and technologies. The city also hosted the first New Media, Animation and Game Expo in China, establishing a key cooperation platform for Chinese, Japanese and Korean experts and professionals. Wuhan also hosted the 10th International Garden Exhibition on landscape design, which attracted the participation of 92 cities and an audience over 2.4 million.’

Some of the researchers working on creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology had been involved with Chinese creative sector initiatives. In recognition of the potential of Chinese involvement in this area, they used to say, only half jokingly that ‘whatever the question, China is the answer’. How ironic that a dynamic city which has vision and drive and realises the potential of the creative sector should instead become known due to the pandemic with which it will be forever associated. It could so easily have been somewhere else – for example, as when the swine flu virus was first identified in 2009 in the United States.

Despite the shock of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the devastating impact it has had internationally and in Australia, hopefully there will still be room for creativity and culture to flourish in our cities and to contribute to the rapidly transforming global world we all share.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook

Good news in a world of gloom – Craft ACT designs a stronger future on the global stage
‘Amongst all the gloom at the state of our once thriving creative sector, it’s easy to overlook important successes and achievements. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic creative organisations have still been endeavouring to maintain momentum with some of the inspiring projects and programs that had been underway, strengthening international partnerships and building longer-term resilience’, Good news in a world of gloom – Craft ACT designs a stronger future on the global stage.

Now for the bad news and the good news – creative sector relief package finally announced 
‘For the creative sector it’s a case of both good news and bad news in a world that has been very much about bad news. With the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown of most of the creative sector, the announcement of massive reductions to Government support for humanities courses in universities, job losses at our major cultural institutions and continuing loss of ABC services, there has not been a lot to smile about’, Now for the bad news and the good news – creative sector relief package finally announced.
 
Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck
‘In its response to the pandemic the current Government came a long way in terms of its narrow economic views about minimising the role of Government. However the longer history of neglect of the creative sector shows how severe the Government's economic limitations are and how its grasp of the economy (without even mentioning the social sphere) is too narrow and out of date. It has missed a whole sector of the economy that was large, fast growing and included many of the jobs of the future. It's most recent actions have merely compounded a seven year history of neglect and damage,’ Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck.

Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector
‘The last few months have been a wild ride. First the national bushfires and now global pandemic. In February people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By March they were being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. I’m quietly seething at governments which knew this was coming, but just didn’t have a fixed date, and thought they could make savings by pretending it wasn’t coming. Now the Australian creative sector has largely been infected as well, but without the ventilators required to keep it alive,’ Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector.

Out of the ashes – art and bushfires
‘While the current bushfires raging across much of Australia are unprecedented in their scale and severity, they are a reminder of how people have responded after previous fires, rebuilding communities and lives in the affected areas. They have also focused attention on the impact of the fires on creative practices and business and on how those in the arts and culture sector can use their skills to contribute to bushfire recovery into the future’, Out of the ashes – art and bushfires.

Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture 
‘Understanding, assessing and communicating the broad value of arts and culture is a major and ongoing task. There has been an immense amount of work already carried out. The challenge is to understand some of the pitfalls of research and the mechanisms and motivations that underpin it. Research and evaluation is invaluable for all organisations but it is particularly important for Government. The experience of researching arts and culture in Government is of much broader relevance, as the arts and culture sector navigates the tricky task of building a comprehensive understanding in each locality of the broader benefits of arts and culture. The latest Arts restructure makes this even more urgent.’, Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture.

What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture
‘With arts and cultural support increasingly under pressure, arts and cultural organisations and artists are trying to find ways in their own localities to respond and to help build a popular understanding of the broader social and economic benefits of arts and culture. Much work has been done in Australia and internationally to understand, assess and communicate the broad value of arts and culture. The challenge is to share and to apply what already exists – and to take it further’, What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture.

See also – indefinite articles in a definite world
‘If you are losing track of the articles I have published to my 'indefinite article' blog over the last few years, this is a summary of all 133 articles up until mid July 2017, broken down into categories for easy access. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian arts and culture’, See also – indefinite articles in a definite world.

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity
‘When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged’, Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity.

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture

‘Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map’, Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

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